Ricky Rubio’s fourth NBA season has come to a close. Flip made this announcement to local media this morning, explaining that his franchise point guard continues to be bothered by ankle pain. They’d rather he rest now, so that he can perform a standard offseason regimen and not have to worry about additional rehab for his ankle.
Do I believe that he’s actually hurt?
No, I guess I don’t, at least not to the extent that he can’t play. I’ve watched him workout before games and he looks great, cutting hard and drilling jumpers. Flip has told us that Ricky wants to play, but isn’t being allowed to. But that doesn’t matter now. His season is done, and — in most ways — so is his team’s.
Back on March 8, four weeks ago tomorrow, I wrote a “Third Quarter Report,” highlighting what I felt were the big issues hanging over the team as it entered the final fourth of its 2014-15 seaason. The post came in the wake of a huge home win over the Blazers in which both Rubio and Kevin Garnett looked great, and the team racked up 121 points. My post wasn’t entirely positive — I criticized Zach LaVine’s point guard abilities and the team’s dearth of power forwards — but it finished with a positively upbeat tone: I wondered if the Wolves were starting to look like a playoff team.
How foolish that seems now, after what’s gone on.
Since that Saturday night in early March, the Wolves have played 15 games. They have won 2 of them; both as much by accident as by quality performance. (They beat the even-more-tanking Knicks in overtime, and won a surprising one at Utah behind big LaVine and Wiggins performances — again, in overtime.) Of their 13 losses, 10 were by double figures.
The following Timberwolves have stepped on the floor for all of those 15 games:
- Chase Budinger
- Lorenzo Brown
- Adreian Payne
- Zach LaVine
- Andrew Wiggins
That is one player whose career was considered effectively ruined by knee injuries, another who was a midseason call-up from the D-League, and three rookies.
Kevin Martin has played in 9 of these games, Ricky Rubio and Gary Neal have played in 4 of them, Nikola Pekovic has played twice, and Kevin Garnett has not played at all. Most nights, KG is not even in the arena. Gorgui Dieng took an errant Payne elbow to the face last Sunday, missed the rest of that game with a “facial contusion” and then the next three with concussion symptoms. It’s unclear when or if he will return to action.
My recent writing has probably seemed a little saltier than usual, because they got my hopes up with the quality play following the Garnett trade, and had me thinking about playoff hopes for next year. Rather than build on that with a strong close to the season, building chemistry between Rubio and his rookie and sophomore teammates, they’ve shut things down and instead fielded an unrealistically noncompetitive lineup. They’ve trotted out Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins, and asked them to carry a cast of overwhelmed role players on their backs.
It doesn’t seem like anything constructive is happening, aside from the occasional big dunk.
Oh and the preservation of great odds in the upcoming draft lottery. We cannot forget that.
That’s obviously the driving force behind these decisions. Along those lines, Wolves fans might as well watch tonight’s Final Four and get a sneak peak at the two players the team will certainly covet in June: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, and Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns. The way I see it, if the Wolves get a Top-4 pick (they’ll have an 88% of that, if they keep their current standing “behind” the Sixers) they’ll do all they can to get one of those two big men. I recommend reading this SI piece on Okafor, and this New York Times piece on Towns.
If they get a Top-2 Pick, they’ll just draft one of them. If they land 3rd or 4th, and both are gone, they’ll arrange a trade. That should be possible, with elite guard prospects Emmanuel Mudiay and D’Angelo Russell having the same or similar draft stock, and a better fit for some realistic lotto winners like Philly and the Lakers. This team has a point guard, and on the wings it has Kevin Martin, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, and Andrew Wiggins. No need there, present or future. But inside is where they need an impact player. At center, Pekovic’s career might be over, and Gorgui is too small to start. At power forward, they don’t really have a clear-cut starter at this point.
With that in mind, and with Okafor and Towns as the consensus “Top 2,” I think Flip will trade up as necessary to get one of them to team up with Rubio at the top and Wiggins on the wing to form a nucleus going forward.
Enjoy the Final Four.